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"I might as well come in since it doesn't appear that you're busy."
Charlene Anderson didn't need to look up to know who the deep, husky voice belonged to.
Drey St. John.
She did, however, glance over at the small heart-shaped ceramic clock sitting on her desk, the only part of her work area that wasn't buried under paperwork. Drey was early although his visit wasn't unexpected. He was a private investigator and she was a forensic scientist in Houston's coroner's office. It wasn't unusual for him to drop by occasionally to harass her for forensic information that would help with the investigation of his current case.
"If you think I'm not busy, St. John, look again," she said, not taking her eyes off the document she was reading. "Now get lost."
She knew he wouldn't go away. He never did. That didn't bother her since she had a weak spot for the rebel private investigator and actually looked forward to seeing him, although she would never admit such a thing to him. His visits were the only high point in her rather dull life. At twenty-seven, she was focused on work, and no matter how you looked at it, dead bodies didn't equate to great dates. Her social life was practically nonexistent, and of all things, she was still a virgin.
While attending Oklahoma State University, she had been too busy making the grades to get involved with anyone and had figured things would change once she finished school and got her career off the ground. She had been convinced, since she looked decent enough, that she would eventually meet some nice guy and get serious. That never happened. For her it always seemed to be all work and no play.
"Don't you ever get tired of messing around with the dead?"
She glanced up. Speaking of dead Drey was drop-dead gorgeous. Definitely a living-breathing specimen of a sexy male. Tall, dark and ultrahand-some. There was no doubt about the fact that at thirty-three he was every woman's fantasy.
He had skin the color of creamy rich chocolate, and had dark hair and slanted dark eyes. All she knew about him was the tidbit she'd overhead from a group of women discussing him one day at lunch. According to them, his mother was half Chinese. If that was the case, she had passed a strikingly exotic look on to her son. Charlene had also heard that his middle name of Longwei meant "dragon strength" in Chinese. The name suited him because of his well-defined muscular physique.
"Not really," she finally said, taking her eyes off him and attempting to return her focus to the document in front of her. "At least I don't have to worry about the dead giving me a hard time."
"Yeah, I would imagine they wouldn't."
She didn't have to glance up to know he was no longer standing in the doorway but had come into her office. Her heart began beating twice as fast. The man had a way of getting to her. In addition to her erratic heartbeat, there was this unexplainable flush of heat that always overtook her whenever he was near, not to mention the way the air surrounding them always felt charged. He apparently didn't pick up on such vibes, nor did he notice she did. He was too busy trying to pump her for information.
When he halted before her desk, blocking her sunlight, she decided to glance up, but took a deep breath before doing so. "And what got you out of bed so early this morning?" she asked, and immediately she wished she hadn't when a vision of him getting out of bedhalf naked filtered through her mind. It was a nice vision but dangerous ground for her mind to tread on. "I need your help with something." She rolled her eyes. "What else is new?" "You're the best there is," he said, smiling. She wished he wouldn't do that. He was sexy enough without the megawatt smile. "Flattery will get you nowhere, Drey."
"What about dinner tonight?"
She placed her pen down and leaned back in her chair. "This must be some case if you're willing to spring for dinner."
She watched the emotions that crossed his face, emotions he rarely let show. He was angry and upset but was holding it in. Something about the case he was working on was bothering him. She could feel it.
"It is," he finally said. "And the answers may very well come from a stiff brought here last week by the name of Joe Dennis."
Charlene turned toward her computer and typed in the name. "Nothing has been done with him yet. He's on Nate's list to do later today." Nathaniel Ganders was her boss. "What exactly do you need to know?"
His tensed features relaxed somewhat when he said, "Anything you can tell me."
She nodded. He understood there were limitations as to what she could share, and she appreciated the fact that he had never asked her to cross the line in doing anything unethical. Not that she would. "In other words, anything out of the ordinary."
"Okay. I'll take a look at the report when Nate's finished. As you know, my boss is very thorough." She cleared her computer screen and turned back to him. "I'll let you know if I notice anything."
"Thanks, and I'm serious about dinner."
"But I'm not." It hadn't been the first time he had hinted at the two of them going somewhere to grab something to eat. She could barely handle her reaction to him now; she didn't want to think how things would be if she had to share a meal with him. Besides, she considered him business and she didn't mix business with pleasure. "Maybe some other time, Drey," she said, knowing it wouldn't happen.
"You said that before."
Not that she was foolish enough to think that it mattered to him. "And I'm saying it again. I'll call you if I learn anything."
"Thanks, Charlie. I would appreciate it."
Charlene glared at him, something she always did whenever he called her that. "Do I look like a Charlie to you?"
He smiled. "Hard to say. That lab jacket's all I've ever seen you wear."
Before she could give him a blazing retort, he turned and left.
The smile remained in place on Drey's lips as he got into his car. For some reason he enjoyed getting a rise out of Charlene. In fact, the thought of seeing her today had pretty much kept his anger at bay, although it was creeping back on him now. He was discovering that being lied to all his life was something he was having a hard time dealing with.
Before starting the engine, he sat still a moment and stared out of the windshield, thinking about the conversation he'd had with his mother, Daiyu Longwei, a few days ago. The conversation had practically shattered his world when she had told him that Ronald St. John was not his father. Instead, the man whom Drey had considered his mentor, Congressman Harmon Braddock, was actually his biological father.
His hands tightened on the steering wheel as his mother's words flowed through his mind.
Sighing deeply, Drey started the engine, thinking that in essence, he was investigating his own father's death. His own father's murder, he immediately corrected, since he was convinced Harmon Braddock's fatal car accident had been deliberate. Someone had wanted him dead and Drey was determined to find out who.
Something else he couldn't put out of his mind was that the very people who had hired him to find the truth were Harmon Braddock's offspring and his siblings. He shook his head knowing they didn't have a clue as to what his relationship was to them. At some point he would have to tell them, but not now. He wasn't ready to go there yet. It was bad enough that he had to deal with it. Besides, how his own mother played into the investigation was still a mystery since it was well documented that less than an hour before his death, Harmon had tried contacting Daiyu. Hell, Drey hadn't known the two knew each other and none of the Braddocks knew that Daiyu was his mother. He didn't like withholding information of any kind from clients, yet that was exactly what he was doing.
He had known the congressman for a number of years. When Ronald St. John, the man Drey had adored as a father, had gotten killed in the line of duty as a police officer when Drey was fifteen, Drey had taken it hard since the two of them had always been close.
It was during that time that Congressman Braddock took an interest in him. And later on in life when Drey had felt himself getting tired of his own career as a police officer, it had been the congressman who had encouraged him to start his own private investigating firm and had gone so far as to keep him on retainer during those times he'd been trying to make ends meet. He would be the first to admit that over the years, Harmon had become the father figure that he'd lost.
To be quite honest, at first when he'd heard of Harmon's car accident he had no reason to suspect foul play, even when the other Braddocks had. But now Joe Dennis's death was raising his suspicions.
Drey brought the car to a stop at the next traffic light as he replayed the facts of the case over and over in his mind. Congressman Braddock had gotten killed in a car accident. The skid marks on the road had been consistent with a car losing control. It seemed Harmon was heading for the airport, which was another mystery since Gloria Kingsley, the congressman's executive assistant, who'd known Harmon's every move, hadn't known about any planned trip.
Another thing that baffled everyone was why the congressman was behind the wheel when his personal driver, Joe Dennis, usually drove Harmon everywhere he went.
And now Joe was dead and according to the police report there didn't appear to be any foul play. Someone just wanted him dead. Why? And exactly what had been the cause of death?
Drey had a lot of unanswered questions but at least he felt fairly confident the latter question would get answered soon enough, once he heard from Charlene. With that certainty, his thoughts couldn't help shift to the efficient forensic scientist. They might bicker every chance they got, but they understood each other. He was as dedicated to his profession as she was to hers.
In the two years he'd known her, he'd never met another no-nonsense woman quite like her, and he found her to be sharp, intelligent and definitely beautiful. The latter he tried not to dwell on too much. Seeing her in that lab coat all the time should have been a turn off; instead it was a total turn-on because he often wondered just how she looked beneath it.